For all reasons my Pune sojourn was most memorable because of my tryst with a place called Ranje. Its an experience I savour and an incident which has left an indelible impression on my psyche.
Its a remote place about 25 kms from Pune and is symbolic of most villages that dot our country. At the heart of the village stands the remnant of a fortress built by the Peshwas in 14th century which was subsequently gifted to the Holkars. During one of the wars when the Bhor tribes attacked the fortress from across the hills it was set on fire. The inhabitants had to flee the place and what was once a place bustling with people was abandoned for some 200 years to weather the ravages of time.
It was only in the early part of this century that Mama Ranjekar Holkar a descendant of the original Holkars decided to come back to his native land. He was man with a mission and it was the age of idealism which saw such stalwarts as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Gandhi, Netaji and many others. He wanted to rehabilitate the place and educate the poor villagers in how to lead a better and more meaningful life.
Mama Ranjekar is no more but subsequently he has been able to inspire many a soul to restore, bit by bit, the once resplendant fortress which is also an archeologists delight. The erstwhile fortress now houses an old age home which is run by his 80 year old widow, affectionately called "Mami" by all. She is hard of hearing and is frail but to my astonishment she personally oversees every thing there. She has a man friday whom I only know of as "Bhaiyaji".
There is a board of trustee which runs the place. It comprises people from all walks of life who have not forgotten to give their due. My dear friend Kedar Chitre is one such soul who visits the place atleast once in a month and is the reason for which I was there. He spends some quiet moments in the temple singing kirtans and talking to the residents who are far away from the urban madness that we all are negotiating daily. He says it helps him to recharge his soul.
He is right. A night spent there makes you feel weightless. Being an urbanite who has been schooled to take out as much as one can from a situation I almost greedily tried to take in as much fresh air as I could. We went there with very little time in our hand and thus wanted to fill ourselves up with everything that we saw, heard, smelt or felt. But I guess we missed the point as most of us are missing the point.
The very concept of an old age home is one of the many fall outs of our times. Each face there seems to tell a story. However inspite of being bitter each of them are intrinsically happy about their present. A happiness which we would all do well to replicate in our circumstance. We are living their past in our very present.
The episode posed some questions which forced me to revisit the place but I could still find no answers. I was guilty of going there with a motive besides trying to find out the answers - to get my wife, my parents and my little daughter to experience the place. May be that was the reason why I couldnt find the answers. Now I have stopped searching for the answers and have gone back to my urbane shell but I will be still ever grateful to Kedar for taking me there.
P.S. - Visit the following article to get a feel of the place.